FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Legislation passed on Tuesday, July 29, 2014 by the U.S. House of Representatives will bring a rare benefit to improve insurance coverage at lower cost to companies and their workers in the recreational boating industry. H.R. 3896 achieved this by amending the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act to provide a simplified definition of recreational vessels for purposes of the Act. The legislation was spearheaded and introduced last January by U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Shultz of Florida. Co-sponsors and industry supporters include Representatives Lois Frankel, Ilieana Ros-Lehtinen, Patrick Murphy, Mario Diaz-Balart, Ted Deutsch and Frederica Wilson of Florida, Tom Petri of Wisconsin, and Duncan Hunter of California.
“Members of Congress, especially Rep. Debbie Wasserman Shultz as the principal sponsor in the House, deserve the credit for protecting every boatyard, marina and subcontractor in the country and their employees,” said Kristina Hebert, president of the Marine Industries Association of South Florida and COO of Ward's Marine Electric based in Fort Lauderdale. She also noted that the recreational marine community has been encouraging Congress to make the legislative change dating back to 2002.
“The recreational marine industry is very fortunate to have champions in Congress on both sides of the isle and in both chambers,” said Duncan Smith, who advocated the legislative issue on behalf of several marine industry associations. “The next step is the Senate where we hope to have expedited consideration of the bill, enabling it to move possibly before the upcoming August recess, or shortly thereafter.”
In addition to the Marine Industries Association of South Florida, other Fort Lauderdale-based groups that support the legislation are American Boat Builders & Repairers Association, Florida Yacht Brokers Association, and U.S. Superyacht Association. Additional support comes from LIG Marine Managers (St. Petersburg, Fla.), Marine Trades Association of Maryland (Annapolis, Md.), National Marine Manufacturers Association (Chicago), Northwest Marine Trade Association (Seattle), and Rhode Island Marine Trades Association (Bristol, R.I.).
In 2009, Congress passed Section 803 of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) that expanded the exception for the recreational repair industry from the requirement to purchase higher cost workers’ compensation insurance under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act. In 2011, the Department of Labor issued a rule that contracted the exception, rather than expand it as Congress intended. Consequently, repair workers reverted to working without coverage due to the affordability and availability of the federal insurance.
A seemingly minor change, the term “recreational vessel” now means, “a vessel (i) being manufactured or operated primarily for pleasure; or (ii) leased, rented, or chartered to another for the latter's pleasure.” The less complicated language identifies who is and who is not eligible for getting state workers’ compensation coverage and therefore facilitates the issuance of marine insurance. The end result is expected to benefit both workers and businesses in terms of increased coverage and economic relief.